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Supreme Court Denies Standing & Allows Costs Against Voting Rights Activist

 

 

Washington DC -- April 4, 2006:  In an alarming wake-up call to voting rights activists accross the country, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand last week a decision by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The lower court ruled (Landes v Tartaglione, et al) that Philadelphia journalist and voting rights activist, Lynn Landes, had no standing to challenge the constitutionality of election laws which Landes claimed deny direct access to a tangible ballot and meaningful transparency to the election process. 

 

Specifically, Landes challenged the use of voting machines and absentee voting in elections for public office.  The defendants in the lawsuit were Margaret Tartaglione, Chair of the City Commissioners of Philadelphia; Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; and Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States. 

 

Landes says that the court's decision does not mean that the use of obstructive and non-transparent voting processes or technologies is constitutional. But, it doesn't send a good signal, either.

 

"Since I represented myself without the support of a voting rights organization, this decision may be a matter of the Court not taking me seriously, rather than any reflection on the case itself," says Landes.  She points out that the Third Circuit based its dubious decision on three cases that had nothing to do with elections, voting rights, or challenges to the constitutionality of state and/or federal law.

 

Landes encourages activists to continue to pursue legal action, but adds a strong note of caution. "The Court is now packed with extremely conservative judges who are taking extraordinary steps to discourage civil rights litigants," she warns. 

 

In what appears to be a punitive measure, the Supreme Court let stand the Third Circuit's judgment to tax court costs against Landes as the plaintiff, an unusual move in a civil rights case.  The Third Circuit's ruling ignored previous U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC (1978) and Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc.(1994).  In the latter case, Justice William Rehnquist stated, "... we found (it) to be the important policy objectives of the Civil Rights statutes, and the intent of Congress to achieve such objectives through the use of plaintiffs as "`private attorney[s] general.'" 

 

In light of the Court's action, Landes is again emphasizing the critical need for 'open voting'.  In a January 2005 article, Landes called for activists to conduct Parallel Elections outside of official polling places as a check against official election results.  Activists in California, Texas, and Florida did just that and more Parallel Elections are planned for this year.  In Parallel Elections, voters are asked to vote twice, once inside the official polling station and again outside in a Parallel Election.  Voters write down their name, address, and signature along with their choice of candidates.  Unlike exit polling, Parallel Election ballots can and have been used to challenge official election results.

 

Landes also suggests that any candidate for elective office request that voters mail that candidate a letter indicating the voter's name, address, signature, a witness's signature, and for which candidate they voted.  It should be mailed directly after the voter has voted at the polls. Candidates should delay conceding or declaring victory for at least a week after the election in order to allow sufficient time to receive these unofficial ballots. 

 

Something similar to this idea was put into practice last winter in North Carolina.  According to a February 6, 2005 editorial in the Ashville Citizen-Times, "...a voting machine error ...caused 4,400 votes to vanish in Carteret County. As (candidate) Troxler led in the count by 2,287 votes in a race that saw more than 3 million votes cast, the missing votes threw the outcome into disarray. Troxler's campaign rounded up affidavits from more than 1,400 Carteret voters who said they had voted for him."  As a result, his opponent conceded.

 

Lastly, since it appears that America's political parties are particularly vulnerable to the influence of big corporations and the wealthy few (and have only given lip service to the right to vote and to have votes counted properly), Landes is encouraging all voters to consider supporting write-in candidates for political office. 


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Lynn Landes is one of the nation's leading journalists on voting technology and democracy issues. She has also written on the subject of the environment and health.  Readers can find her articles and research at EcoTalk.org.  Formerly, Lynn was a news reporter for DUTV and commentator for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Contact info: lynnlandes@earthlink.net / (215) 629-3553